Catholic News Service -- Faith & Precedent Column
Douglas W. Kmiec
At the end of May in Washington, D.C., Professor Robert George of Princeton and I, along with former Bush Administration Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon, will be having a public conversation at the National Press Club to evaluate President Obama's wider inclusion of embryonic stem cells in federally-supported medical research.
Each of us, as Catholics, have faith-based reservations to the President's use of embryos, but here is some encouraging news: the Obama administration has just issued its implementing regulations and they head in a noticeably more Catholic-friendly direction.
In his initial press conference, as I saw it, the President had already put off-limits the use of embryonic stem cells for reproductive cloning. Professor George thought the cloning limitation could have been stronger. Either way, the more general Catholic objection to the President's plan was its seeming support for the production of embryos for medical research seeking a cure for Parkinson's disease, cancer, and other illnesses.
The new regulations show even greater ethical sensitivity by the President, now by limiting the use of embryos in the medical research effort as well. Specifically, the regulations provide that only embryos created by couples to treat infertility and that turn out not to be needed may be used. These embryos, of course, would have been discarded if not devoted to medical research.
This is a salutary limitation upon the use of embryos, and if it sounds familiar, it is, because former President George W. Bush did something similar. Neither president thus met the Catholic objection which pertains to the use of any embryo.
President Obama's ethical mitigation was not finished, however. Specifically, he has authorized the National Institute of Health (NIH) to continue to invest several hundreds of millions of dollars in the types of "adult" stem cell research urged by Catholic scientists and doctors as an ethical alternative to the use of embryos.
Finally, in a move totally unexpected, the Obama administration announced informed consent rules that are far more strict -- and retroactive -- than what had been proposed by President Bush. In brief, if researchers do not follow the new informed consent rules, no funding. This may trigger some consternation among medical researchers, but it is a very positive sign that President Obama has been listening -- as he promised -- to the heightened claims of conscience posed by Catholics in the modern medical environment.
As noted, these new stem cell regulations are not yet the full Catholic position specifying the embryo as life's beginning point. Our faith makes a scientific claim and a moral one. As Cardinal Rigali has instructed, life begins with the embryo as "a matter of objective [biological or scientific] fact" and as a "moral" conclusion dependent upon a principle of "natural law accessible to people of good will."
I am especially pleased by Cardinal Rigali's recent letter to Congress highlighting the Pregnant Women's Support Act. The question bears examination however: Why do President Obama and other intelligent, non-Catholic people not agree with us totally?
Good question, and in the forthcoming conversation in Washington, we will more closely examine the source of this Catholic disagreement with our fellow citizens and our President. Taking our cue from Professor Bill Wagner of The Catholic University of America (CUA) who will be our host at the press club, and influenced by the intellectual courage and stature of Notre Dame that earlier in the same month of May will be hearing from the President and of course had invited former Ambassador Glendon as well. I regret Mary Ann felt it necessary not to come to Notre Dame. She will always be welcome at Our Lady's University, and of course, I know Professor George and I remain delighted that she will be in conversation with us. We intend to conduct our conversation as persons of faith witnessing Christ - that is, in a manner slow to judge and answering in love, and without recrimination or partisan suspicion.
May God bless the great Catholic Universities of this land, especially CUA and Notre Dame, for demonstrating how a world-class university can conduct inquiry with an open mind, anchored in faith and informed by reason. And may God bless President Obama for hearing -- and responding -- to the Catholic community. The President's strong motivation to assist in the treatment of devastating illnesses often associated with life's end is only ennobled by his willingness to be more ethically sensitive to the earliest moments of life.
And the Holy Father apparently agrees with Doug Kmiec!!
LOSSERVATORE-OBAMA Apr-29-2009 By John Thavis Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican newspaper said President Barack Obama's first 100 days in office have not confirmed the Catholic Church's worst fears about radical policy changes in ethical areas.
The comments came in a front-page article April 29 in L'Osservatore Romano, under the headline, "The 100 days that did not shake the world." It said the new president has operated with more caution than predicted in most areas, including economics and international relations.
"On ethical questions, too -- which from the time of the electoral campaign have been the subject of strong worries by the Catholic bishops -- Obama does not seem to have confirmed the radical innovations that he had discussed," it said.
It said the new draft guidelines for stem-cell research, for example, did not constitute the major change in policy that was foreseen a few months ago.
"(The guidelines) do not allow the creation of new embryos for research or therapeutic purposes, for cloning or for reproductive ends, and federal funds may be used only for experimentation with excess embryos," it said.
It added that the new guidelines "do not remove the reasons for criticism in the face of unacceptable forms of bioengineering" but are "less permissive" than expected.
The article saw a positive sign in the recent introduction of the Pregnant Women Support Act, which would help women overcome problems that often cause them to have abortions. It was sponsored by a group of pro-life Democrats.
"It is not a negation of the doctrine expressed up to now by Obama in the matter of interruption of pregnancy, but the legislative project could represent a rebalancing in support of maternity," the newspaper said.